Stake President Russell Clayton has apologized to Tiercy Hadlock in an email, copied below for easy access. To understand the context, you must listen to the recordings of their meetings and read Clayton’s follow-up emails. However, in summary, Clayton rescinded Hadlock’s temple recommend, then threatened her with a formal disciplinary hearing on the grounds of apostasy when (he asserts) she didn’t follow his direction to “stop talking” about the “emotional affair” between her husband and another female ward member.
Surely some think his apology should be the closure that makes it all go away. But it isn’t much of an apology. He doesn’t apologize for priesthood abuse, for bullying her, for placing the needs of the organization ahead of her needs as an individual. He sounds as if his aim is to resolve the problem at the point at which it intersects with his life as a leader and not at its root–her life. His apology for “not understanding her feelings” ignores her legitimate complaint of ecclesiastical overreach. And that’s the crux of the matter for me: a woman’s legitimate grievances are too often de-legitimized as emotional and non-rational muckraking.
The outcry about the toxic pedestaling of women in the church isn’t new, nor is it widely understood. The church culture in which I have lived four decades asserts a) that spiritual experiences manifest as feelings, and b) that women are more spiritual than men because we supposedly feel more deeply than men. In other words, spirituality has been feminized in ways that are toxic for everyone.
This likely explains why our (male) priesthood leaders often adopt, as Clayton does, a feminine tone even when behaving aggressively. This mask of alleged spirituality allows plausible deniability and safeguards the priesthood leader from direct confrontation. Ironically, the pedestaling of women has compelled male leaders to use our own traditional (and problematically stereotypical) gender characteristics as a weapon against us. Men may not recognize they do this, but women, who, historically, have had to rely on manipulation to get by in a patriarchal world, recognize it clearly, even if we won’t risk naming it.
But we must risk naming it. No matter how softly and sweetly Clayton attempts to address Hadlock, he is manipulating, diminishing, and bullying her to make his own life easier, to establish a “house of order” (D&C 132:8) as he writes in his follow-up email. Tyrants use power to create order. Jesus surely never did. It isn’t lost on me that Clayton resorts to quoting the infamous section 132, containing as it does a threat against Emma’s salvation if she isn’t silently accepting of Joseph’s polygamous (and sexual) relationships beyond their own marriage. “Sweet bullying” is an unfortunate pattern of patriarchal religions, and no number of patriarchal scripture quotations will sanctify such a pattern. The Holy Ghost will affirm this.
But I also want to call attention to Hadlock’s language throughout the interviews. Notice as you listen how many times she predicates her assertions with “I feel.” It seems clear from released material that Hadlock is a victim of unrighteous dominion, but her exchanges with Clayton also demonstrate the deeply harmful results of the false way our culture has pretended to empower women through our feelings. Engraved on the pedestal is the idea that our feelings make us more spiritual than men, that our strength and worth comes through our emotion, which is allegedly linked to the divine. But this fails us, as it failed Hadlock.
In addition, centuries of existence in a patriarchal world has taught women to soften our statements so powerful men have an escape route from direct challenge, all in the hope of improving our odds of safety or survival. Hadlock seems enmeshed in both the narrower Mormon and wider cultural expectations. As a result, and in the end, she remains disempowered by a Mormon authority who reduced her complaints to personal feelings and then limited his apology accordingly. He made no acknowledgment of his abuse of power, in part because the language women have been trained to use permits him to reduce our claims to emotional, non-reasonable assertions.
The pedestal will never empower women. Women will not be valued in the arena of authority or ideas if we allow ourselves to be valued primarily for our emotions. In an environment where there is little ability to change the patriarchal system, women must recognize the potential empowerment that will come from recasting the way we speak about our experiences. Not “I feel.” Not “I think.” But “This is what is happening.”
I’ve had a brief conversation with a decades-long acquaintance of mine who resides in the stake over which Clayton presides, and she made clear her affection for the man, identifying him as someone with a good heart and even better intentions who made a monumental mistake. She can forgive him. I may not know him, but I empathize with him for the difficult situation he found himself in and for the human foibles that lead him to respond so poorly. Yes, he owes Hadlock an apology for his misuse of power, but this action on his part is a small symptom of the actual problem.
There will, of course, be those who fault Hadlock for making her story public, just as they have faulted others. But what other recourse does she have? Within the present power structure of the LDS Church, there is no legitimate avenue for her to rectify abuse. For this, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should apologize, not just to Hadlock, but to Clayton who might have been spared this public humiliation, and to all of us who remain open to ecclesiastical abuse. I don’t need to hear or read the words “We are sorry” from some church spokesman: I know that will never happen. I need the Church to recognize its bureaucratic weaknesses and correct them so that individuals who are being abused have safe, legitimate recourse.
We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion. (D&C 121:30)
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